Pretty Good Books

Uncommonplace Book

The quotations below are selected from those that struck a chord, sympathetic or otherwise, with students in my Great Books/World Literature courses over the past years.  Page numbers are keyed to the HarperCollins World Reader (HC) and to the expanded edition of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, volume 1 (NAX), and to the 7th edition of the misnamed Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces (NA), unless otherwise noted.

One thing I find fascinating about the texts we read in such courses is the way that different parts of the Great Books tradition speak differently to different audiences, different ages.  Students of the twenty-first century read a Medea or Farewell to Arms very different from those originally heard or read, or, for that matter, those differently received by diverse audiences throughout the intervening years.  And hence this new collection of sometimes unfamiliar quotations.
NA91 Song of Songs Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
NAX1623 Wanderer lines 26-28 Who bears it knows what a bitter companion, 
shoulder to shoulder, sorrow can be, 
when friends are no more.
NAX676 Euripides, Medea
lines 296-299
If you put new ideas before the eyes of fools 
They'll think you foolish and worthless into the bargain; 
And if you are thought superior to those who have 
Some reputation for learning, you will become hated.
NAX2941 Popol Vuh Now it ripples, now it still murmurs, ripples, it still sighs, still hums, and it is empty under the sky.
NAX1476 Rumi Friend, our closeness is this: 
Anywhere you put your foot, feel me 
in the firmness under you.
NAX1476 Rumi Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. 
Let the beauty we love be what we do. 
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
NA1182 Thorstein the Staffstruck "It's the same old story," said Bjarni. "No one seems willing to learn from another man's lesson."
NAX2077 Ki no Tsurayuki I cannot agree 
that cherry blossoms scatter 
uncommonly fast, 
for a human heart may change 
even before the wind blows.
NA1109 Augustine But in this I did not keep the measure of mind to mind, which is the luminous line of friendship; but from the muddy concupiscence of the flesh and the hot imagination of puberty mists steamed up to becloud and darken my heart so that I could not distinguish the white light of love from the fog of lust.
NAX1139 Augustine I was not yet in love, but I was in love with love, and from the very depth of my need hated myself for not more keenly feeling the need.  I sought some object to love, since I was thus in love with loving . . .
NA1775 Ariosto Love, in the universal opinion of wise men, is nothing but madness.
Aeneid I Virgil Someday, perhaps, remembering even this will be a pleasure. 
NAX792 Confucius The Master said,"To be fond of something is better than merely to know it, and to find joy in it is better than merely to  be fond of it."
Tao Te Ching 48 Lao Tzu In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. 
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped. 

Less and less is done, 
until non-action is achieved. 
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

HC277 Plato It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen of the jury; it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death.
NA1712 Machiavelli For there is such a difference between the way men live and the way they ought to live, that anybody who abandons what is for what ought to be will learn something that will ruin rather than preserve him, because anyone who determines to act in all circumstances the part of a good man must come to ruin among so many who are not good.
HC1101 Machiavelli Fortune is a woman, and whoever wishes to win her must importune her and beat her, and we may observe that she is more frequently won by this sort than by those who proceed more deliberately.
NAX2513 Montaigne I am afraid we have eyes bigger than our stomachs, and more curiosity than capacity.  We embrace everything, but clasp only wind.
NA1218 Calvary Now goeth sonne under rood
Me rueth, Mary, thy fair rood;
Now goeth sonne under tree,
Me rueth, Mary, thy son and thee.
Inanna 44 Inanna He laid his hands on my holy vulva, 
He smoothed my black boat with cream, 
He quickened my narrow boat with milk, 
He caressed me on the bed.
NA38 Gilgamesh As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feats and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.
NA30 Gilgamesh Your lovers have found you like a brazier which smoulders in the cold, a backdoor which keeps out neither squall of wind nor storm, a castle which crushes the garrison, pitch that blackens the bearer, a waterskin that chafes the carrier, a stone which falls from the parapet, a battering ram turned back from the enemy, a sandal that trips the wearer. Which of your lovers did you love forever? What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time?
HC132 Gilgamesh You have toiled without cease, and what have you got? 
Through toil you wear yourself out, 
You fill your body with grief, 
Your long lifetime you are bringing near to a premature end!
NA1207 Bertan de Born And once entered into battle let every man proud of his birth think only of breaking arms and heads, for a man is worth more dead than alive and beaten.
HC803 Boethius Now there are two things on which all the performance of human activity depends, will and power.  If either of them is lacking, there is no activity that can be performed.  In the absence of the will, a man is unwilling to do something and therefore does not undertake it; and in the absence of the power to do it, the will is useless.  So that if you see someone who wants to get something which he cannot get, you can be sure that what he has been lacking is the power to get what he wanted. 
NA810 Catullus

I hate and love.
And if you should ask how I do both, I couldn't say;
but I feel it, and it shivers me.

HC310 Catullus She swears she'd rather marry me 
Than anyone--even Jupiter, 
Supposing he were courting her. 
But what a girl will swear 
To the man who loves her ought to be 
Scribbled on water, scrawled on air.

NA 1209 Arnaut Daniel

Each day I am a better man and purer,
for I serve the noblest lady in the world,
and I worship her, I tell you this in the open.

NA2155 Shakespeare I had rather be a toad and live upon the vapor of a dungeon than keep a corner in the thing I love for others' uses.
  Christine de Pizan If all my writings are about sadness,
it's no surprise, for a heart in mourning
cannot have joyous thoughts. Asleep or
awake, every hour finds me in sadness. To
find joy is difficult for a heart that lives in
such sadness.
Chuang Tzu 32-33 Chuang Tzu Joy, anger, grief, delight, worry, regret, fickleness, inflexibility, modesty, willfulness, candor, insolence--music from empty holes, mushrooms springing up in dampness, day and night replacing each other before us, and no one knows where they sprout from.  Let it be!  Let it be!  It is enough that morning and evening we have them, and they are the means by which we live.  Without them we would not exist:  without us they would have nothing to take hold of.  This comes close to the matter.  But I do not know what makes them the way they are. 
NA1197 Al-Qabturnuh I remembered Sulayma when the passion
of battle was as fierce
as the passion of my body when we parted.
I thought I saw, among the lances, the tall
perfection of her body,
and when they bent toward me I embraced them.

This page is a learning tool provided by
Jeremy M. Downes
Department of English
Auburn University
All material is presented for educational purposes
Please contact me with any comments or concerns
Copyright ©2000
Last update: September 7, 2000